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5 ego traps to avoid when you’re a leader

Posted by Deepshikha Shukla

March 21, 2022

Ego is the perception and projection of yourself as you wish to be, rather than as you “are.” But when it becomes the driving force in an individual’s sense of their own self-worth, it actually prevents them from knowing their true self. Below we explore five common ego traps, each pertaining to one of the major personality traits, and strategies to help leaders avoid them.

Learning to control the ego



George Watts and Laurie Blazek, the founders of leadership coaching firm Top Line Talent, advocate an “inside out vs. outside in” philosophy of leadership development. Under this approach, identifying and acknowledging your ego-driven behavior and its influence is what keeps you from falling into ego traps.

People mature by taking control of their ego and deciding when and how it manifests, according to Watts and Blazek. Consequently, they are able to see reality with greater accuracy and clarity. The goal of leadership development, therefore, is learning to discern the truth to make the right decisions and accelerate this maturation process.

The big five personality traits



Psychological researchers, beginning with D.W. Fiske in 1949 and later expanded upon by other researchers, describe human personality as comprising five broad traits, also known as the “big five.” Each of the five personality traits represents a range between two ends of the spectrum. 

The big five personality traits are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (OCEAN). Everybody’s personality contains these five broad traits, albeit in different degrees.

A synopsis of the five traits:

1. Openness to experience –

This trait includes characteristics such as imagination and insight. People who are high in the openness to experience trait tend to be adventurous, creative, curious and eager to learn new things and enjoy novel experiences. People who are low in this trait often struggle with abstract thinking and may resist new ideas.

2. Conscientiousness –

Highly conscientious people are organized, systematic and have good impulse control. Their behavior is goal-directed. They plan ahead and think about how their behavior affects others before acting. People low in conscientiousness may procrastinate, fail to complete tasks on time and be prone to messiness.

3. Extraversion –

People high in extroversion are characterized by sociability, excitability, assertiveness and high emotional expressiveness. They feel energized and excited being around other people. People who are low in extraversion tend to be more reserved and often require solitude and quiet to recharge. 

4. Agreeableness –

Standard features of agreeableness are trust, altruism, kindness, affection and other prosocial behaviors. People who are high in this trait tend to be cooperative, while those low in this trait tend to be competitive and even manipulative.

5. Neuroticism –

This trait includes attributes such as sadness and emotional instability. People high in neuroticism tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness, while those low in this trait tend to be emotionally resilient.

Ego trap by dominant OCEAN trait

“Because the ego always comes from a place of fear, each dominant personality trait contains a corresponding fear-based ego trap,” write Watts and Blazek. The table below lays out these underlying fears.

Dominant trait Ego trap Underlying fear
Openness Need to be superior. That your vision and ideas will not provide the intellectual status you feel entitled to.
Conscientiousness Need to be right. Making a mistake and not being perfect.
Extraversion Need for approval. Not being admired, liked and recognized the way you feel you should.
Agreeableness Need to be liked. Not being included and that your collaborative intentions aren’t reciprocated.
Neuroticism Need to win. That your judgment will not prevail and you won’t succeed.


How to avoid the ego traps



Ego, the Latin word for “I,” involves a sense of self-importance that can slow personal growth and negatively impact interactions with other people. Here are five tips to help leaders identify and overcome “ego traps.”

1. Tap personality assessments



Everyone follows their own path to maturity and neutralizing their ego. This is because individual behavior is a result of your life experiences and beliefs. So, it’s important to understand how your most powerful personality traits drive your behavior. This will help you avoid unconscious bias.

Multiple types of assessments aim to measure personality traits, like the Myers-Briggs personality test and the Rorschach Inkblot Test.

2. Identify a role model



Mature leaders are good mentors and active listeners who create authentic cultures where people thrive. Consider a leader like this to be your role model. This will help you examine your ego-driven behavior and guide you toward psychological maturity. 

3. Sharpen your people management skills



Leaders become more mature when they use their position to help others achieve their goals. Refine your management style to help your staff succeed by providing constructive feedback.

4. Let go 



Success is not only about individual achievement and power, but it is also about being thoughtful and reflective on account of others in your team. By relinquishing control, you promote a sense of trust in your team members and overcome your sense of being in power.

5. Practice empathy



Putting yourself in another’s shoes is the antithesis of ego. Prioritize your team’s objectives and continually consider how your decisions affect others. 

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